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The Real Robinson Crusoe
Frequently history is stranger than fiction and none more so than in the
tale of Alexander Selkirk: the real-life Robinson Crusoe.
Within a few years his skill at navigation led to his appointment as
Sailing Master on the ‘Cinque Ports’, a sixteen gun, ninety ton
privateer. The expedition was a disaster. The captain of the ship was a
tyrant and after a few sea battles with the Spanish, Selkirk feared the
ship would sink. So, in an attempt to save his own life he demanded to
be put ashore on the next island they encountered. In September 1704,
Selkirk was castaway on the uninhabited island of Más a Tierra (today
known as Robinson Crusoe Island), over 400 miles off the West Coast of
Chile. He took with him a little clothing, bedding, a musket and power,
some tools, a Bible and tobacco.
several years of isolation, two ships drew into the island’s bay.
Selkirk rushed to the shore, realising a little late that they were
Spanish. Their landing party fired, forcing him to flee for his life
although he managed to evade capture and the Spaniards eventually
Selkirk had spent four years and four months of isolation on the island, yet seemed stable when he was found. The experience had, in fact, saved his life. From William Dampier he learnt that he had been right to leave the ‘Cinque Ports’, which had sunk off the coast of Peru with all of its crew drowned except the captain and another seven men, who had survived only to be captured and left to rot in a Peruvian jail.
Selkirk re-embarked on his career as a privateer and within a year he
was master of the ship that rescued him. In 1712 he returned to Scotland
£800 richer, and surprised his family as they worshipped at the Kirk in
Largo. They had long given him up for dead and were astonished that he
was alive, let alone alive in his fine, gold and lace clothes. In 1713
he published an account of his adventures which were fictionalized six
years later by Daniel Defoe in his now famous novel: ‘Robinson Crusoe’.